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Tools of the trade

Hannah Wise harnesses online analytics and data to shape community-driven journalism


Hannah Wise was broadcasting via Facebook Live for The Dallas Morning News on July 7, 2016, when a peaceful downtown protest was shattered by gunfire. As shooting continued and chaos spread, Wise kept reporting live until her phone battery died 30 minutes later.

Five police officers were killed and nine wounded by a U.S. Army veteran angered by the recent deaths of African American men in police-involved shootings. The paper was named a Pulitzer Prize finalist for its team coverage of the tragedy.

“I was grateful for my training at KU, that I was really thinking about the ethics of everything that we were broadcasting,” says Wise, j’14. “In situations like that people have lots of anxiety. You always want to get it right, but you really want to be right in those instances.”

The experience informed a career transition that led Wise to shift her journalism focus to audience engagement, first at the Morning News and then, starting in July, at The New York Times.

“That made me really think about how we were answering questions from our community, how we were representing them on the site and in the pages of the newspaper, and how we could include them more,” she says.

Inspired by a ProPublica series on Agent Orange that drew on the experiences of thousands of Vietnam War veterans and their families, Wise pitched her bosses the idea of an engagement editor to harness social media to produce “community led and driven” reporting. She created a project called Curious Texas that invited Morning News readers to not only suggest stories, but also “to join in the reporting process.” As Wise wrote in a piece launching the project, “The idea is simple: You have questions and our journalists are trained to track down answers.”

Last year the paper published more than 100 Curious Texas articles, drawing 1.2 million page views. (Her favorite, “Where Have All the Horny Toads Gone,” was a nine-month project tracing efforts to reintroduce the state reptile—and Texas Christian University mascot—to its traditional range.) This year Editor & Publisher named Wise to its “25 Under 35” list of rising journalists.

As a social strategy editor at the Times, she oversees @NYTimes brand accounts and works with reporters and editors to monitor stories that often bubble up from online conversation.

“There’s sometimes a misconception about social media roles,” Wise says, “but a lot of thought and strategy goes into connecting people across the internet using tools like Facebook and Instagram and Twitter to deliver cohesive journalism to that audience at the right time. There’s a lot of data and analytics that we use in our role, trying to make sure that we have the most impact with every piece of journalism the Times produces.”

Issue 5, 2019


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